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Love in the Peaks and the Valleys

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And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all just as we about in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thes 3:12-13)

A friend of mine graduated from college and started a volunteer program in a city far from home where she would serve for two years. I remember speaking to her shortly before she left home to start orientation. I was struck by what it was she was most looking forward to for its simplicity and clarity. She said she was just so excited to love—that loving was what she’d be spending her time doing in a thoughtful, intentional way. She would love the people she’d live with in her household community, colleagues, and the children she served. She and I caught up a few times in the first few months of her service, and I listened as she described the challenges she faced with her community, co-workers, and those she served. At one point, she doubted her desire to serve in this particular way, recalling the zeal and energy she had to begin, at the outset of her two years of service, and holding it alongside the exhaustion and frustration she felt at the present moment, six months in. After struggling through this period of transition, she named this difference loving from the “peak” versus loving from the “valley.” From the peak, where she stood prior to beginning her two years, she could see and love all, but there existed a distance between her and those she loved. From the valley, where she stood in the midst of service, she loved up close and particularly—which, for her, proved to be the more challenging.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul prays that the Lord increases their love for one another and for all; for the particular people among whom the Thessalonians live, pray, and work, and for all people, the whole. Paul’s hope for them reminded me of my friend’s reflection pre-service. She discovered a difference in her experience of loving “all,” from the peak, versus loving “one another,” from the valley. In her case, she found the loving “one another” more difficult. For many of us, especially those who work in ministry, her experience hits close to home. We might find it simpler to love “all,” or “the whole,” and more challenging to love “one another,” or the particular. The “whole” doesn’t quite make demands on us in the same way particular people do: colleagues, parishioners, pastors. The “whole” doesn’t inconvenience our day, distract or annoy us with its idiosyncrasies, or ask us to pick up the slack with its shortcomings or tardiness. But love for the particular is where love for the whole, or all, is actualized, is realized. It’s where our ideas and hopes for the whole, the Body of Christ, can be demonstrated and made known.

This week, we have the good fortune of coming together to reflect upon how “liturgical prayer, sacramental formation, and liturgical catechesis can contribute to the New Evangelization.” We get to gather and consider how these things can take root anew in our own particular communities. In a sense, we get to reflect lovingly from the “peak,” taking a step back and looking at the “whole.” This is vital. Time must be spent doing this. However, in the midst of our “peak” experience, we must also remember that our fruitful conversations and insightful realizations must be brought into the valley, integrated into our love for the particular people we serve.

God loves us as a whole, his people and Bride, the Church. However, this love is not distant. It is also up close, in the midst of our particular lives, our idiosyncrasies, our shortcomings and tardiness. He knows us as the Body and the members. He knows us from the peak and the valley, making him the source of the love we have “for one another” and for “all.”

It is only in and through him that we can hope to love this completely.

Kelley Dawson is a 2016 graduate of the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame.

Editors’ Note: This text was delivered as a homily at Vespers during the Center for Liturgy Symposium, Liturgy and the New Evangelization. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

Featured Photo: Tim Gage; CC-BY-SA 2.0.